Do Sorority Houses Violate Prostitution Laws?


Isn’t the real reason there are no sorority houses at UNLV because they violate prostitution laws?

My recent column on the lack of a Greek Row at UNLV spurred a few tweets, emails and barstool debates about this theory. It’s an old, tantalizing and somewhat sexist myth that too many shacked-up sorority sisters constitute a brothel. It’s also surprisingly not limited to Nevada, where legal ladies of the evening lie in wait just an easy hour’s drive from the Moyer Student Union. Reports of this urban legend stretch to Chicago and Pennsylvania, dating back to at least the mid-20th century.

The story is scandalous (and believable) enough to have a lived a good life on the whisper circuit, and will likely continue to do so—despite the fact that it isn’t the least bit true. Sure, zoning laws can limit the number of people living in a home, and yes, prostitution is illegal almost everywhere. But one has nothing to do with the other.

So, is it “gambling” or “gaming”?

If you ask the Powers That Be, they have officially called it “gaming” since the mid-20th century. There may have been some use of “gaming” as early as 1945, when collection and regulation of gambling taxes was moved from the city and county jurisdictions to the state level. But the first official assignment of the term “gaming” came in 1955, when the Nevada Legislature formed the Gaming Control Board.

Shifting the language from “gambling” to “gaming” was an obvious public relations move on the part of state officials to burnish a sheen on what was then generally considered a dirty business. Still, that business had emerged as the state’s top industry by 1952, so cleaning up its image became a critical mission. More than 60 years later, the Gaming Control Board (along with the Nevada Gaming Commission) still works to protect the industry. Much of that work is intended to uphold the industry’s legitimacy in the eyes of the gambling—er, gaming—public by carefully vetting those who obtain licenses, and by holding them accountable to broad “moral turpitude” language found in our gaming laws.

Putting aside the PR-friendly semantics, I prefer the visceral honesty of the term gambling. “Gaming” sounds too much like something you do with an Xbox in the family room, and not enough like the risky business it is.

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